Thursday, September 13, 2007

What the Heck is That?

Most EFL or foreign language learners start shouting responses right away.

“Our group got 14”.

“We have 29”.

“Oh no, we only found eight”.

I make a game out of it, pitting small groups of EFL learners against each other in an effort to come up with the most.

The English as a foreign language (EFL) class group consists of 20 students aged 20 to 22 in their fourth or fifth university semester. Regardless of the faculty from Accounting and Business to Law, Medicine, Nursing or Orthodontics, and even with adult independent student class groups, they all love “the game”. In fact, language learners of other foreign languages like Italian, French, German, Japanese and Spanish swear by the game too.

The Game

Learners are organized into small groups of four to five. A picture, drawing or photo of a strange, unknown is projected or posted. They must then brainstorm as many possible uses for the “item” as they can. After an interval of ten to twelve minutes or so I have them tall the number of “uses” they’ve been able to come up with. Members of the winning group then receive a small “prize” or reward. Ones I like to give out are little cellophane-wrapped candies, a bag of M&Ms or something else like that. We then discuss the ideas presented, especially the most unique and interesting ones.

Gadget, Device or Machine?

This activity almost always brings up what the difference between a gadget, device and machine is. We go around the class room identifying objects from each category. Our working definitions are as follows:

A gadget uses no power and has no moving parts. Examples include a manual corkscrew, potato peeler or hand-operated can opener.

A device uses power but has no moving parts. Examples include a radio, a digital TV or a telephone.

A machine uses power and has moving parts. Examples include a computer, a CD or a cassette player / recorder, cars and airplanes.

Learners could also be assigned to look up definitions in a dictionary before reporting their definitions to the class. If two or more different dictionary versions are used, learners can make comparisons, coming up with a composite definition.

Finding an “Item”

So where o’ where can you find a good “item” or two to help your EFL or foreign language learners to play “the game”? You might try a leisurely browse through a dollar store or equivalent in your search. A flea market is another place where you might certainly turn up an antique gadget to use. I’ve had numerous successes when browsing for cheap, unusual and practically unknown items in both of these places. Check out the family attic and don’t forget to snoop through areas of the basement where “goodies” might be warehoused. Having two or three different items will allow you to repeat or vary the exercise using realia. You could also always draw a unique, but non-existent thingy for playing the game as well. Be sure to look for items that make you or your learners want to say;

“What the heck is that?”

The extents of your imagination is the only limit for both you and your EFL or foreign language learners.

Photo credit: New Interchange student book 2 by Jack C. Richards with Jonathan Hull and Susan Proctor, Cambridge University Press

Prof. Larry M. Lynch is an English language teaching and learning expert author and university professor in Cali, Colombia. Now YOU too can live your dreams in paradise, find romance, high adventure and get paid while travelling for free. For more information on entering or advancing in the fascinating field of teaching English as a Foreign or Second Language send for his no-cost pdf Ebook, “If You Want to Teach English Abroad, Here’s What You Need to Know”, by sending an e-mail with "free ELT Ebook" in the subject line. For comments, questions, requests, to receive more information or to be added to his free TESOL articles and teaching materials mailing list, e-mail:

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